Good move

The Centre’s plan to withdraw the army in a phased manner from the hinterland of the Kashmir valley is a welcome move as it reflects a significant improvement in the security situation on the ground. However, this must be followed up with genuine political outreach to restore normalcy. The conduct of free and fair assembly polls, as promised by the NDA government, holds the key to the revival of peace and stability in the trouble-torn region. A large presence of the army in the hinterland would sit oddly with the oft-repeated claims of normalcy. If the plan of phased withdrawal is implemented, then the army would only be deployed in forward areas of Kashmir along the Line of Control (LoC), the de-facto India-Pakistan border.

And, the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel will replace the army. Mainstream political leaders of J&K have long demanded the withdrawal of military personnel from the region. Strategic experts too have echoed similar demands, highlighting that while the army can aid the state police in law and order or internal security issues, its main mandate should be the country’s external security and preparation for larger tactical and strategic challenges. The number of soldiers in J&K is said to be in the region of 1.7 lakh. This includes the personnel posted along the 740-km LoC with Pakistan. The army went into J&K in the 1990s when the Valley was engulfed by militancy and terrorism. The Centre has been claiming that the security situation has improved in the Valley since the abrogation of Article 370 in August 2019. However, there have been several instances of targeted killings in J&K over the past two years in which police personnel, government employees and minority Hindus have been targeted. The violence-hit border region has already witnessed much bloodshed. It awaits political initiative – a genuine outreach – to heal the wounds of the past and bring back normalcy.